Another dip in UK recycling – for notoriously difficult-to-recycle mattresses

Mattress recycling has fallen in the UK since 2014, according to a new report by the National Bed Federation (NBF).

The latest ‘End of Life Mattress Report’ from the organisation, which has been updated to include local authority statistics, documents that mattress recycling rates fell from 16 per cent in 2014 to 13 per cent in 2015.

The NBF is a trade association representing the UK and Ireland’s bed manufacturers and component suppliers. Its members account for over 70 per cent of UK mattress production.

Produced by consultancy Oakdene Hollins, the report attributes the drop to rising new mattress sales and reduced recycling capacity. Nia Bell, a consultant from Oakdene Hollins, explained: “In the full report, we identified four recycling companies which had either closed or stopped accepting mattresses in 2014 and 2015.”

Estimates from the report suggest that 879,000 mattresses were recycled in 2015, compared to 924,000 in 2014. In addition, local authorities reported an 11 per cent decrease in mattress recycling. The report surmises that financial pressures on local councils may be partly to blame for this, as well as difficulties in ensuring recycling companies comply with necessary regulations. New mattress sales were estimated to have risen to 6.8 million units.

In contrast to these figures, the report suggested an increase in recycling in the commercial sector, across retailers, manufacturers and prisons, with a growth estimate of 39 per cent in 2015, from 118,000 to 164,000 units recycled. Retailers account for 70 per cent of the growth, with many now offering end-of-life mattress take back when selling a new mattress. Local authorities are still responsible for the bulk of mattress recycling, however (81 per cent).  

A difficult waste stream

“Mattresses are a hugely difficult waste stream to handle”, Antony Buchan from the London Waste & Recycling Board told Resource in 2014. “They’re incredibly bulky and they don’t bulk up particularly well to be transported long distances.” This makes them notoriously tricky to recycle.

At the end of 2016, the Welsh Government and the county of Rhondda Cynon Taf called on local businesses to come up with innovative solutions to allow every part of the mattress to be recycled as part of a competition. Also, in 2014, £140,000 worth of funding was awarded to two recycling organisations in London in a bid to boost the reuse and recycling of mattresses and bedding.

Looking at the report’s regional breakdown, Welsh local authorities came out on top, reporting the highest recycling rates despite seeing a drop in mattress recycling overall, continuing the country’s head and shoulders lead over the rest of the UK when it comes to recycling. East Anglian local authorities had the lowest recycling rate. Whilst many regions saw their recycling rates drop (Scotland, North West, Yorkshire & Humberside, South East, Wales, West Midlands and the South West), a few saw an improvement (Northern Ireland, London, North East, East Anglia and East Midlands).

The full report can be viewed on the NBF website